Edwards v. Mills et al
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER denying 1 Motion for Leave to Proceed in forma pauperis. Signed by Judge Candy W. Dale. (Attachments: # 1 Exhibit - Docket, Case No. CV-2015-8958-C, # 2 Exhibit - 2017 unpublished opinion No. 370, Idaho Court of Appeals) (caused to be mailed to non Registered Participants at the addresses listed on the Notice of Electronic Filing (NEF) by (klw) on 4/10/2017.) Modified on 4/10/2017 to edit text (cjs).
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF IDAHO
Case No. 1:17-cv-00128-CWD
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND
JOSHUA MILLS and VINTON
The Clerk of Court conditionally filed pro se Plaintiff John Edwards’ complaint as
a result of his in forma pauperis request. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915, the Court may
review Edwards’ in forma pauperis complaint to determine whether it may be summarily
dismissed. Edwards, the only party appearing in this action, consented to the jurisdiction
of a United States Magistrate Judge. 1 See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c); Fed. R. Civ. P. 73. The
See United States v. Real Property, 135 F.3d 1312, 1316 (9th Cir. 1998) (holding a magistrate judge had
jurisdiction to enter final judgment over defaulted person who was technically not a “party” to the
litigation); see also, Walters v. Astrue, 2008 WL 618933 (N.D. Cal. 2008) (dismissing complaint pursuant
to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) where only plaintiff consented to magistrate judge, and defendants, who had
not been served, were not considered parties to the action).
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER - 1
Court now reviews Edwards’ complaint to determine whether it, or any of the claims
therein, should be summarily dismissed under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). Having
reviewed the record, and otherwise being fully informed, the Court enters the following
John Edwards filed a pro se complaint requesting in forma pauperis status on
March 21, 2017, against Defendants Joshua Mills and Vinton Howell. Edwards’
complaint alleges Defendants “falsified and re-wrote the Idaho statute code § 18-7008(8)
for their own personal notice of trespass,” and restricted his liberty interests for one year
without authority. Edwards alleges also that Defendants “replaced the above law with
their own trespass notice,” and “made up vicious offensive mean lies” to take away his
The complaint indicates there was a case before Judge Nye, whom Edwards
contends ruled in error against him. Edwards indicates he appealed the ruling to the Idaho
Supreme Court, which affirmed Judge Nye’s ruling. 2
Attached to the complaint is a letter to Edwards dated June 29, 2015, authored by
Vinton Howell, the Caldwell City Recreation Superintendent. The letter states that,
pursuant to Idaho Code § 18-7008(8), Edwards is notified that he is “trespassed from
The Court takes judicial notice of the docket in Case No. CV-2015-8958-C, Edwards v. Mills, which
was dismissed by Judge Christopher Nye on February 25, 2016. The Court accessed the docket, which is
available to the public, via the Idaho State Court repository. The Court also takes judicial notice of the
Idaho Court of Appeals opinion dated February 17, 2017, affirming Judge Nye’s judgment dismissing
Edwards’ complaint against Mills. Both the docket and the appellate court opinion are attached to this
decision as Exhibit 1 and Exhibit 2, respectively.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER - 2
Rotary Ponds and Memorial Park in Caldwell, Idaho for a period of one (1) year
following the date” of service of the notice. The reason for the notice was Edwards’
interference “with the attempts of animal control to contain cats within Rotary Ponds.”
The letter directed Edwards to contact Joshua Mills at the Caldwell City Attorney’s
Office if he had any questions. Howell and Mills are the defendants in this action.
According to the facts set forth in the unpublished opinion of the Court of Appeals
of the State of Idaho in Edwards v. Mills, Opinion No. 370, the Animal Control
Department of the city of Caldwell had ongoing issues with Edwards due to his conduct
in city parks. Edwards apparently interfered with animal control officers attempting to
trap cats, and threatened park visitors by driving dangerously. The city of Caldwell
recreation superintendent served a notice on Edwards, presumably the same notice dated
June 29, 2015, and attached to Edwards’ complaint here, notifying him he was no longer
welcome in city parks.
Edwards questioned the validity of the trespass notice, prompting the Caldwell
city prosecutor, Joshua Mills, to write a letter of explanation. In response, Edwards filed a
complaint against Mills. The district court explained to Edwards that, if he disregarded
the notice, he would be charged with trespass. The district court then granted Mills’
motion to dismiss the suit with prejudice. Edwards appealed, contending the district court
erred in dismissing his complaint against Mills because Mills violated Edwards’ due
process rights. The court of appeals, in a detailed written opinion, affirmed the district
court’s order of dismissal. The court explained Edwards had not identified a
constitutionally protected liberty or property interest necessary for a due process
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER - 3
violation, and that the letter was lawfully issued. The court awarded costs and attorney
fees to Mills on appeal.
Standard of Review
Once a complaint has been conditionally filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915, the
Court may conduct an initial review of the complaint. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). The
Court must dismiss a complaint or any portion of it if it: (1) is frivolous or malicious; (2)
fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted; or (3) seeks monetary relief from a
defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i-iii).
Because Edwards is proceeding pro se, the complaint must be liberally construed,
and Edwards must be given the benefit of any doubt. See Resnick v. Hayes, 213 F.3d 443,
447 (9th Cir. 2000). Additionally, if the complaint can be saved by amendment, Edwards
should be notified of the deficiencies and provided an opportunity to amend. See Jackson
v. Carey, 353 F.3d 750, 758 (9th Cir. 2003). A dismissal without leave to amend is
improper unless it is beyond doubt that the complaint “could not be saved by any
amendment.” Harris v. Amgen, Inc., 573 F.3d 728, 737 (9th Cir. 2009).
Federal district courts lack jurisdiction to review or set aside state court
judgments; nor can a federal court adjudicate issues that are “inextricably intertwined”
with those adjudicated by the state court. See Johnson v. DeGrandy, 114 S.Ct. 2647,
2653–56 (1994). This is known as the “Rooker–Feldman doctrine” which arises out of
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER - 4
two Supreme Court cases. Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 44 S.Ct. 149, 150 (1923); District
of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 103 S.Ct. 1303, 1316 (1983).
The rationale for this doctrine is that a lower federal court cannot review or second
guess state court judgments, even if litigants believe them to be wrongly decided. Hale v.
Harney, 786 F.2d 688, 691 (5th Cir. 1986) (judicial errors committed in state court must
be corrected through appeals in the state court system, up through the United States
Supreme Court). A district court can dismiss an action if a party in the state action
attempts to relitigate issues presented to the state court. Branson v. Nott, 62 F.3d 287,
291–92 (9th Cir. 1995).
Furthermore, “[t]o determine whether an action functions as a [prohibited] de facto
appeal, we ‘pay close attention to the relief sought by the federal-court plaintiff.’” See
Cooper v. Ramos, 704 F.3d 772, 777–78 (9th Cir. 2012) (quoting Bianchi v. Rylaarsdam,
334 F.3d 895, 900 (9th Cir. 2003)). Where the form of relief would constitute a reversal
or “undoing of the prior state-court judgment,” Rooker–Feldman directs that the lower
federal courts lack jurisdiction. Bianchi, 334 F.3d at 900 (internal quotations and citations
It appears Edwards is attempting to create a federal claim to challenge a state court
judgment. The relief requested effectively seeks to undo the state court’s application of
the law and the judgment of dismissal of Edwards’ complaint against Mills in state court,
either through an award of damages, via invalidation of the trespass charge, or by
invalidation of the judgment of dismissal of his complaint against Mills. Edwards’
requested relief therefore depends on a determination that the state courts committed
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legal error in rendering a judgment of dismissal against him, and would require this Court
to scrutinize the state court’s application of governing law and procedure. This is exactly
the type of de facto appeal prohibited by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.
Edwards’ claim against Defendants essentially asserts that the state court
determination and the later appellate court determination were wrong, and he seeks to
overturn the outcome of the state court action. Accordingly, the Court finds that the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine applies, and this Court is without jurisdiction to provide the
relief sought against Defendants.
Edwards is precluded also from relitigating his claims under ordinary res judicata
principles. When determining the preclusive effect of a state court judgment, federal
courts must “give the same preclusive effect to a state-court judgment as another court of
that State would give.” Parsons Steel, Inc. v. First Alabama Bank, 474 U.S. 518, 523
(1986) (citing Full Faith and Credit Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1738). Under Idaho law, claim
preclusion, or true res judicata, applies where the following elements are met: (1) the
present claim involves the same parties as the original action, or their privies; (2) the
present claim arises out of the same transaction or series of transactions as the original
action, such that identical claims were raised or could have been raised; and (3) the
original action ended in a final judgment on the merits. Berkshire Investments, LLC v.
Taylor, 278 P.3d 943, 951 (Idaho 2012).
Additionally, a federal court must dismiss a claim that is inextricably intertwined
with a prior state court order or judgment. This arises when the state court judgment or
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER - 6
ruling allegedly caused the injury to the plaintiff. Tal v. Hogan, 453 F.3d 1244, 1256–57
(10th Cir. 2006) (dismissing plaintiff's RICO conspiracy claim brought against litigants
in the prior state court action); see also Ritter v. Ross, 992 F.2d 750, 754 (7th Cir. 1993)
(holding that a plaintiff may not seek a reversal of a state court judgment simply by
characterizing it in a complaint as a civil rights action); Williams v. Aztar Indiana
Gaming Corp., 351 F.3d 294, 299–300 (7th Cir. 2003) (including allegations of a
conspiracy and due process violations in a complaint was a transparent attempt to move a
state court dispute to federal court).
Here, the present claim arises out of the same transaction as the original action
brought by Edwards against Mills in state court. Edwards has not alleged any new
grounds for suit or facts that have occurred since the Idaho Court of Appeals affirmed the
district court’s dismissal of his suit against Mills.
Next, Mills, and Howell, were either parties or in privity with parties to the prior
state court action. Mills was the defendant in the state court action Edwards brought
against him. And Howell, as the author of the initial letter directing Edwards to refrain
from entering park property, appears to be in privity with Mills. In any event, there is
substantial identity and sufficient commonality of interest between Howell and Mills,
such as to implicate Howell here.
And finally, there was a final judgment on the merits of Edwards’ claims.
Edwards’ claims of misconduct and impropriety, in relation to his due process rights,
were all raised and rejected by the district court and the Idaho Court of Appeals, as
evidenced from the judicially noticed documents attached hereto.
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Leave to Amend
Although Edwards has not requested such relief, leave to amend should be granted
if it appears possible that the defects in the complaint could be corrected, especially if a
plaintiff is pro se. Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1130-31 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc); see
also Cato v. United States, 70 F.3d 1103, 1106 (9th Cir. 1995) (“A pro se litigant must be
given leave to amend his or her complaint, and some notice of its deficiencies, unless it is
absolutely clear that the deficiencies of the complaint could not be cured by
amendment.”) (citing Noll v. Carlson, 809 F.2d 1446, 1448 (9th Cir. 1987)).
Here, the defects in the complaint cannot be cured by amendment. The Court lacks
jurisdiction, and Edwards may not relitigate claims in this Court that were raised in the
state court proceedings.
For the foregoing reasons, the Court dismisses Edwards’ Complaint in its entirety.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER - 8
NOW THEREFORE IT IS HEREBY ORDERED:
Plaintiff’s Motion for In Forma Pauperis (Dkt. 1) is DENIED, and a
judgment of dismissal with prejudice will be entered.
DATED: April 10, 2017
Honorable Candy W. Dale
United States Magistrate Judge
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